Fonta Flora Brewery of Morganton has just secured a unique expansion property in partnership with the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina and Lake James State Park. With the purchase of a historic 49-acre dairy farm, Fonta Flora will become the first true farmhouse brewery in Western North Carolina.
Situated on the old Whippoorwill Dairy Farm just outside Nebo, the future brewery sits 3 miles from a late-19th-century agricultural settlement, also known as Fonta Flora that provided the brewery with its name. The Fonta Flora community was comprised of roughly 100 predominantly African-American sharecroppers who were displaced in 1916 when the village was flooded during the creation of Lake James.
The descendants of the original Fonta Flora inhabitants have taken notice of the brewery’s attention to their history. “They come in here and see everything with Fonta Flora written on it, and it just brings tears to their eyes,” says head brewer and co-owner Todd Boera. It was important to Boera and fellow co-owners Mark and David Bennett to memorialize the historic lost community.
“We all fell in love with the romanticism, the history, the folklore and the community, [and] Fonta Flora will never be forgotten now,” explains Mark Bennett. His brother David adds, “Now we have the opportunity to showcase it even further by building our second brewery in the exact same valley where the original settlement existed over 100 years ago.”
The brewery’s partnership with the Foothills Conservancy, essential to purchasing the substantial acreage and ensures that the property will be maintained under a permanent conservation easement with commensurate guidelines for future development. Under this arrangement, Fonta Flora secured 8 acres of the land, consisting of historic structures in addition to farmable open space. The Foothills Conservancy purchased 40 acres, which will be donated to Lake James State Park later this year, resulting in a brewery and farm site that will be nestled against protected state parklands.
Farming the new property will allow Fonta Flora to grow much of its own produce, with plans including fruit orchards, herb gardens, vegetable patches and supplemental hops and grains. While the brewery’s agricultural presence will provide greater access to adjuncts that have proven difficult to source, such as pawpaws and persimmons, the brewery will continue to rely heavily on area farmers and will still source its malt from Asheville’s Riverbend Malt House.
Whippoorwill’s historic structures will be preserved and renovated whenever possible rather than giving way to new construction, and all restoration is to be completed with historically accurate materials. The farm’s existing structures were built with a unique type of stone mined on-site, designated Paddy’s Creek Stone in reference to a nearby tributary of the Linville and Catawba rivers. A 4,500-square-foot barn is expected to house the future production floor, with a stacked-stone milking parlor that will be repurposed for barrel cellaring and packaging.
Boera has plans to install a 15-barrel production brewhouse. The space will allow him to provide the same attention to detail he has always dedicated to his small-batch saisons and fruited sours while increasing output of flagship clean beers such as Hop Beard IPA and Irish Table Stout, the latter having won a gold medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival.
Expected to be operational by year’s end, the production facility will significantly increase Fonta Flora’s capacity to supply its beers to the Asheville market, with plans for a tasting room on the horizon. On the motivation behind developing a farmhouse expansion, Boera says, “Brewing is [fundamentally] agricultural, and so having the chance to take it back to its agricultural roots is pretty awesome.”
Look for expanded coverage of Fonta Flora’s farmhouse brewery project in the March 30 print issue of Mountain Xpress.